Lead, follow, or get out of the way

Image: How to hit a moving target

CIOs must be more strategic. Agility is what they should be strategic for.

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Why the CIO should own agility initiatives

you’re the CIO of a large retailer. If the CEO asks what you and your organization can contribute to make the enterprise more strategically agile during an expected recession, do you have an answer? If the CEO doesn’t even bother to ask what you can do to help, what does that mean?

As companies wrestle with continuous, overlapping change, they are trying to figure out what is keeping them from being more agile. Does your CEO see the enterprise technology portfolio as an asset or a liability in the pursuit of agility? More to the point, are you part of the problem or part of the solution? For most CIOs today, the only way they’ll be part of the solution is to rewrite their job description and promote the new one to their boss.

Chart: Areas of CIO strategic leadership by 2013

Figure 1: Areas of CIO strategic leadership by 2013
As ranked by survey respondents. Source: EIU Survey, 2008


Agility is not merely the ability to respond swiftly to change. Agile organizations anticipate future market shifts and assess the degree to which these shifts will affect the sustainability of the business. Where appropriate, agile organizations modify their systems and processes before such shifts occur. Doing so often protects value at risk or creates new value opportunities. (The PwC paper “How to build an agile foundation for change” explores this agility concept in more detail.)

Given the rising importance of agility, it is entirely appropriate to question the role of the CIO and the IT organization. IT has helped streamline and standardize many inefficient business processes. But efficiency and agility are not one in the same. (See the article, “How to hit a moving target,” for more discussion about business agility modeling.) In many respects,
now is a fortuitous time to ask these questions. You likely are asking how you and your IT organization can contribute to making your company more agile. Perhaps you’ve initiated a service-oriented architecture (SOA) project for just this purpose, but you know enterprise agility is not something IT can do by itself. What’s the right approach?

Part of the answer is to ensure that the CIO role changes to a strategic one. You’ve probably heard that before. Indeed, a 2008 Economist Intelligence Unit survey of senior management highlighted several critical areas where the CIO is expected to make strategic contributions between now and 2013. (See Figure 1.) Several of these business functions require agility. Companies must innovate to enhance their customer value propositions while complying with standards set by the enterprise or its regulatory context.

The definition of a strategic role for a CIO should include more than just understanding the business when proposing technology plans. What’s missing is the imperative that enterprises become permanently agile. In fact, redefining the CIO role to lead the process of achieving agility—and not simply being strategic for the status quo—is an essential part of what companies must do to achieve that permanent agility. (The articles and interviews in this issue of the Technology Forecast explain the other necessary actions CIOs should anticipate.)